Food Plot Question: “I have about 12 acres of open field with native grasses surrounded by several hundred acres of mixed hardwoods and cut-overs with pines on which I would like to establish a deer food plot. I planted some type of clover several years ago on about 2 acres with moderate success. The property is in Central Virginia. There is little deer hunting pressure and I would hope to hold the whitetail deer more in this area.
There is no agriculture on any of the surrounding habitat. I would like to plant a fall and winter food plot, but also am interested in spring forage as well. There are also turkeys in the area and holding them in the area with a suitable food plot would be a bonus. I appreciate any advice you may have.”
Response: Planting white-tailed deer food plots is popular activity among many hunters and landowners in Virginia. Food plots are valuable for attracting whitetail, turkeys, rabbits, and other wildlife to specific areas for hunting or viewing, but keep in mind that they are not a substitute for good habitat management. Timber management, prescribed burning, and other activities that promote young, low plant growth can improve deer health and quality more than food plots. Habitats across your entire property and adjoining lands are like the real meal, food plots are just the dessert.
Food plots planted with suitable plants (see photos above) will attract deer most where the surrounding habitat is poor. In areas where natural foods are abundant, where timber harvesting has provided a flush of new growth, or in farmland with an abundance of forage crops, you may have trouble drawing deer to even the best food plots. In good habitats, deer are able to meet their nutritional needs and are probably growing and reproducing at their maximum potential without the addition of food plots.
Food plots in Virginia, as in other areas, are of most value when natural foods are scarce. For example, in years with poor acorn crops, deer will visit food plots more during the fall (hunting season) than in years when mast is abundant. In drought years, deer may frequent warm season plantings during summer. In general, deer experience greatest nutritional stress in late winter and early spring. Therefore, perennial food plots that last throughout the winter and green up early in the spring will be attractive to whitetail deer.